Arundel Aikikai Empowerment Self-Defense

Welcome to You, Empowered

What is Empowerment Self-Defense

You Defense is guided by empowerment - a focus on the building the students' strength, independence, and autonomy.  The challenges of violence, abuse, fear, and hatred are immensely complex; no single person has "the" answer.  However, I believe the potential to find answers to these challenges is absolutely there within the beautiful diversity of the human experience!  You Defense seeks to empower you to call-out what challenges you, and to discover your answers!

You Defense believes that self-defense courses should "do no harm" physically or emotionally, to the students who take them. Self-defense curriculum should follow students' realities; content should match the students taking the class. You Defense is the belief that students are experts in their own lives, and instructors are guides journeying with the student.

The guiding principles of You defense focus on the right to empowered freedom. Anyone who is attacked is free from fault, and is therefore free of blame. You have the sole rights to you, your boundaries, and your actions. You are empowered in your defense, and are free to choose to defend yourself or to choose to not take defensive measures. without any loss of freedom from fault and blame.

Why is Empowerment Self-Defense Important?

Analyzing crime data indicate the presence of a subtle, cultural violence surrounding our lives.  This violence impacts our physical safety in many direct ways, yet it cannot be countered by physical self-defense. You can physically fight off a rapist, but you cannot punch rape-culture away, no matter how personally appealing that may seem.  The goal of empowerment self-defense is to create strong and independent humans, people who are able to defend their bodies as well as their identities.  These empowered individuals are the best suited to fight for situational, relational, social, and even cultural justice.

In general, we are safer than ever!  Almost all measures for crime show significant decreases, and there's been a consistent reduction in measures for over a decade. Even rape and other sexual violence crimes are showing a decrease of 63% over the last decade or so.  However - while all crime rates are indeed falling - the rate of decline in murders, rapes, and other sexual violence is a minimal decrease compared to other types of crime. The crimes in this category are not committed for personal pleasure or profit; they are pure expressions of violent control over another human. The intractability of these crimes while others show stark declines point to our cultural problem.  Empowerment self-defense courses are the only product providing an answer to both the physical and cultural threats.

Why "You" Defense?

A central philosophy of You Defense is the simple truth of "I am not you." My situations and problems are not your situations and problems; therefore my solutions cannot automatically be your solutions.

To truly teach self-defense courses, the students must be in charge of defining their needs and goals. If a class teaches physical "self-defense" without this awareness, the class is merely "body defense" (if you have the same body type as the instructor!) At best, such a class is effectively useless for preparing you to defend your safety in your situations.  At worse, it can be incredibly damaging to the core of who you are.

You Defense curriculum is customized by asking questions about you. The martial arts course content generated by these questions is taught collaboratively, and expanded to all areas of your life through group discussions and mock-situations.  Student feedback is obtained throughout the course, ensuring the course provides training appropriate for where you are.

Principles of You Defense

You are Free

Freedom from fault

The definition of fault is "responsibility for an accident or misfortune." Attack situations impacting someone are never accidents or misfortunes. The fault, accountability, and blame for the creation of any attack situation is exclusively owned by the attacker(s). The creation of an attack situation is always a decision by the attacker, regardless of how you were acting, what you were wearing, where you were, or what you were saying.

Freedom from blame

The definition of blame is "to assign the responsibility for a bad or unfortunate situation or phenomenon to someone or something." In turn,  The definition of responsibility is "the state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something."As a deliberate choice by the attacker, the causality of an attack situation literally cannot be caused by the victim. Placing blame for a situation or event on someone who cannot cause it is mistaken at best, and a continuation of the attack situation at worst

You have sole rights to you

You have the right to your space

  1. You are in complete control of your "self;" your own body, brain, and mind
  2. You are in complete control of your relationships in your space
  3. You are in complete control of your decisions in your space
  4. You are in complete control of your actions your space

 You have the right to your boundaries

  1. You have the right to create personal boundaries and barriers to protect and shelter this individual-self
  2. You have the right to control how these boundaries are drawn, and how they are protected
  3. You have the right to decide if and how to communicate these boundaries to others
  4. You have the right to identify words and actions that violate your boundaries and barriers
  5. You have the right to be in full control of your responses when your boundaries are crossed

You are empowered

You are in control

  1. You are in complete control of your responses and actions to protect your individual-self.
  2. Your choices to take action or to not take action to protect your barriers are fully yours; they do not change the truth of your freedom, rights, or empowerment in any way

You are in community

  1. You are empowered to form communities of mutual safety and protection
  2. You are empowered to create boundaries of safety and respect in these communities, and bring these boundaries to the public sphere
  3. You are empowered to communicate, validate, and respect these boundaries alongside others
Beliefs of You Defense

The core beliefs of You Defense self-defense courses are a self-defense course must do no harm, it's content must match the needs of the students, and it must empower students' abilities to create unique solutions matching their needs.

Self-defense courses should do no harm to participants in mind and body

Self-defense education must do no harm to students. Self-defense courses must be delivered consistently in ways that do not harm students health, wholeness, safety, and security.

Self-defense courses should be appropriately adaptable to student situations

Self-defense curriculum must follow student reality. Self-defense curriculum must be grounded in quantitative/objective and qualitative/subjective information about what threatens the peace, health, and safety of students.

Self-defense courses should be directed by the students

Self-defense instruction must allow students to create their answers. We are all on our own journeys to our own destinations of peace, health, and safety.  Technical instruction must be delivered in ways that give students the ability to find their own answers and to own their safety.

The Goals of You Defense

Goals of You Defense

Enable the creation of student-owned content by placing students in complete control of who they are

  1. Allow students to ask & answer "who are you" in their individual-self
  2. Guide students to ask & answer  "who are you" in your situational-self
  3. Challenge students with information & statistics on attack situations
  4. Empower students to problem solve attack situations with critical discussions
Provide practical and effective training to meet the needs which students identify
  1. Train students to defend their individual-selves through core martial arts concepts
  2. Encourage students to apply martial arts concepts to protect their situational-selves 
  3. Protect the physical safety of students by training their bodies, brains, & minds to be fully aware during attack situations.
  4. Ensure the mental safety of students by creating a trauma-informed, student-focused curriculum.
Plant and grow communities of empowerment
  1. Create a community of awareness, equipped to fully see & name attacks against all of our whole-selves
  2. Create a community of courage, empowered to challenge & call-out what attacks all of our whole-selves
  3. Create a community of power, equipped to bring your unique solutions to complex attack situations
  4. Create a community of connection, empowered to expand your solutions complex attack situations
  5. Create a community of determination, equipped to firmly push forward towards creating humanity

Foundations of Empowerment Curriculum

Teach FOR the student, not AT the student

In the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire writes of education-as-liberation.  Rather than believing students to be blank slates or empty jars to be filled by the teacher, Freire believed students should be co-creators of their own knowledge and the directors of their education. 

The reason for this dramatic reversal of traditional education authority was to circumvent the core issue Freire noticed in his native Brazil.  The education provided by the oppressor/colonial powers - even when benevolent - always ended up creating more "oppressors" out of those it educated. Freire finds that members of the oppressors - often themselves a product of violence and oppression - cannot create the solution to oppressive systems. Instead, the oppressed have the solutions and can discover them when given the space and support to do so.

In self-defense terms, this means the martial arts instructor does not have the answers for the students.  The role of instructor is to listen to student concerns, be present for their physical education needs, and to guide them to their own knowledge of self-defense. The end product might not be the "ideal" technique or approach of the martial artist, but it will be infinitely more practical to the students!

Relationally Empowering

Strangers simply aren't the danger they're made out to be in our culture.  In reality, the likely attacker is someone you already know, and their method of attack relies on manipulating their relationship with you.  

  1. Studies show that approximately 80%-90% of women reporting sexual assaults knew their assailant.
  2. The majority of assaults occur in places ordinarily thought to be safe, such as homes, cars and offices.
  3. Many instances of sexual violence go unreported. However, reported sexual assaults are true, with very few exceptions. According to CONNSACS, only 2% of reported rapes are false.

That sexual violence is most likely perpetrated by someone you know is not cause for alarm, but a battle call to refocus on the most important part of self-defense: self or "you".  The most important part of self-defense is knowing and projecting who you are. Personal safety involves creating, communicating, and commanding your barriers.  These barriers are yours; they are applied how you see fit. You Defense training will assist you discover how to protect your physical barriers, and challenge you into creating ways to protect your many other barriers.

Own your barriers

  1. Identify and Value Your Boundaries.
  2. Knowing what behavior you're comfortable with coming from others verbally, emotionally, and physically. 
  3. Being able to communicate this to others. Creating action plans for when you notice any of your boundaries are violated. 
  4. Own Your Identity in  Intimate Relationships. 
  5. Set boundaries early-on  in your mind and in your relationship. If a boundary is crossed in a relationship, take action to change the relationship's direction immediately. 
  6. If a relationship doesn't change, you are empowered to take action for your well-being

Understand and Respect Your Family Relationships

  1. We cannot choose the families into which we are born, it's random.  Some people get million dollar loans from their dads, others are born into very different situations.  Since it's nothing we can control, it doesn't have anything to do with your worth, skill, or value as a person. 
  2. We cannot choose how our psychological and biological needs impact our early childhood.  
  3. We're hardwired to survive, a part of this involves how we relate to our parents or caretakers.
  4. We cannot change the our parents and caretakers, including their past experiences that may impact their beliefs, behaviors, and/or actions.
Psychologicaly Informed Self-Defense

There is a fundamental paradox of self-defense instruction. If what we teach as brain and body defenses will destroy the self of the mind, we're simply not teaching self-defense.  If what we teach isn't simple, easy, and practical, it's not defense. 

If martial arts are taught as details or techniques, they will be learned by the rational mind. This mind will likely be offline during an attack, making what they've learned ineffective. If the rational mind remains online during a self-defense situation, the defender may hesitate, or hold back their responses to the attacks, making what they've learned ineffective.  In self-defense, there is fundamental disconnect between the sense of "self" (your mind & who you are) and the "defense" (the actions your brain and body take to ensure your organism's survival).

Creating an Internal Defender

You Defense provides a possible answer to this paradox through the basic concepts of the Internal Family Systems Model (IFS), developed by Dr. Richard Schwartz, Ph. D. The IFS Model describes each of us as having "sub-personalities" that work together to meet the challenges and tasks of our daily lives. We are viewed as "containing an ecology of relatively discrete minds."  The first basic assumption of the IFS Model is "It is the nature of the mind to be subdivided into an indeterminate number of  sub-personalities or parts. Everyone has a Self, and the Self can and should lead the individual's internal system. The non-extreme intention of each part is something positive for the individual. There are no "bad" parts..."

The You Defense curriculum is guided by the idea that you are in charge of your "self."  To ensure that both how you are taught and what you learn do not harm or hinder your command of your "self," You Defense takes participants through the creation of a "martial-self" or "warrior-self"  This self is the recipient of self-defense knowledge and techniques. The role of this self is to take decisive action, to unleash your defenses when called upon.  Taking the time to create this part of you ensures that you will be able to effectively learn and use self-defense without defense destroying the self!

Neurologically Informed Self-Defense

Connecting to how our brains process information during crisis allows us to create truly effective martial-selves.  We frequently hear the phrase "fight or flight," but this is not a full or accurate statement. You Defense curriculum specifically focuses on preparing students for attack situations; including what their brains, minds, and bodies will face as they fight for safety. The drills, discussions, and exercises of You Defense seek to place the student's "self" in full control of what's happening at every step!

The Beautiful Brain

When our brains process signals from our bodies, the information is sent in two directions, high and low.  The high direction is to our frontal lobe, or our conscious mind.  At this level we are aware of thoughts and make rational decisions.  Long before information gets to the frontal lobe, however, it will have been screened for threats by other parts of the brain. These parts, the lower areas, process information faster than our conscious mind is aware of.  These parts are connected directly to our viscera, or guts.  This mechanism allows our emotional processing - our gut feeling - to be infinitely faster and more reliable than our frontal lobe during a crisis (The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, Bessel Van der Kolk, Penguin Books, New York NY 2014).

Self-Defense as Traumatic Event

When our lower brains flag something as a possible safety threat an immediate series of actions are initiated that all occur before our rational mind is aware of what's happening (from Trauma and Memory: Brain and body in a search for the living past, Peter, A Levine, PhD, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley CA 2015).

  1. We pause, or our hearts "skip a beat" as we enter arrest/alert processing.
  2. If the stimuli continue to worsen, we'll progress to stiffen and orient as we search for what is causing discomfort or danger.  
  3. Once the cause of the worsening feeling is identified, we filter the stimuli to see if we need to assess it further.  
  4. If so, we process if we should avoid, or approach what has captured our gut sensation.
  5. If things continue to get worse, we attempt to fight through humanity's strongest & most unique weapon in the animal world; our complex social relationships.  We automatically seek to fight - or flee - together as groups.  
  6. If our search for other humans to aid us fails or if we are alone, we may seek to fight or flee alone.  
  7. If we are unable to fight or flee, we will freeze with high levels of fear and nervous energy to wait out the threat.
  8. If the threat continues to escalate, we will fold, dissociate, or shut down as a final strategy of survival

Self-defense curriculum must empower students to successfully face the traumatic reality of being attacked. 

Evidence Based Self-Defense Curriculum

When providing solutions to a need, there must be a definition of the "need" and experience or evidence that the suggested "solution" meets the need.  The need addressed by YOU Defense is the crime of assault, the violent expression of control over who you are and who you might become.  The darkest example of this attack is sexual violence.  The solution taught through YOU Defense focuses on immediate, practical skills at the personal level, practical abilities of commanding and controlling your boundaries at the social level, and the creation supportive community in the broader context of our culture.

Research-Proven Programs

The Center for Disease Control recently completed a systematic review of 140 studies examining the effectiveness of primary prevention strategies for sexual violence perpetration titled Lessons from Research and Practice. The core findings of this study emphasize that sexual violence perpetration is a product of multiple, interacting levels of influence. It's not just "victim" and "perpetrator," there are more complex things in the social-ecological reality of sexual violence. The CDC developed a four level social-ecological model, and found that intervention strategies using similar holistic models were the most effective at reducing sexual violence. The model developed by the CDC includes the characteristics of the individual, their relationships, their community, and the larger cultural and societal contexts in which they exist. 

Out of all programs reviewed in the CDC study, only two programs have rigorous evidence of effectiveness for preventing sexual violence: "Safe Dates" and the building-level intervention of "Shifting Boundaries."

Effective program: Safe dates

This program is a 10-session curriculum addressing attitudes, social norms, and healthy relationship skills.  It includes experiential learning (a 45-minute student play about dating violence) and encourages individual ownership of the content via a poster contest. Students who took this curriculum were significantly less likely to be either victims or perpetrators of sexual violence involving a dating/intimate partner!

Effective program: Shifting Boundaries

This program focuses on building-level intervention, and is a 6-10 week school-based dating violence prevention strategy. It uses building-based restraining orders, awareness building media like posters, and maps hotspots of trouble requiring increased monitoring.  This program successfully reduced sexual violence perpetration and improved agency responsiveness. 

You Defense Verified

The self-defense model used in YOU Defense follows the general layering of the CDC model.  The YOU Defense approach includes the biological, sociological, and psychological elements of the individual (the whole-self's brain, body, and mind).  Additionally, the YOU Defense model incorporates the Whole-Self into it's various relational situations, and the social and cultural context which creates those relationships.  

Empowering Practical Self-Defense

Practical Empowerment

To be practical is "to be of, relating to, or manifested in practice or action; not theoretical or ideal." In teaching self-defense from a foundation of the neurology and psychology of trauma, YOU Defense is deeply practical.

How we process, store, and recall information is intricately linked to our emotional - not rational - reality. We process threats to our survival and well-being at a deep, gut level in our physical body's viscera (our guts).  These threats and possible responses are all processed through emotional memory faster than the rational mind could recognize. If a threat is confirmed, our nervous systems react with incredible speed without the awareness of our conscious mind.

If self-defense curriculum is not developed with this neurological understanding at its foundation, it will be taught to a brain that will likely be offline/inactive during our body's crisis response. If self-defense courses are not taught from a foundational understanding of the links between emotion and memory, their techniques will remain theoretical to a person under attack. Finally, if a self-defense course is taught from the instructor's perspective, the content will always only be an ideal for the students; never an organic reality!

Martial Arts Techniques

Instruction in each of these areas includes: in person presentation of material, in-class exercises for individuals and for groups, and access to instructional material for out-of-class practice and reminders

Moving / Blocking

Students will learn basic movements to evade or nullify attacks.  Additionally, students will learn, practice, and apply basic blocking and parrying movements for a variety of situations.

Hitting / Striking

Students will learn the basic movements and concepts of generating powerful kicks and punches.  Students will have opportunities to practice against heavy targets as well as precision targets.

Breaking / Locking

Students will learn and practice the basic concepts of joint locks, and will have chances to practice them with each other and the instructor.  Joint locks are the foundation of joint breaking, and instruction in joint locking includes these elements. Locking techniques are applied to both the upper body (hand – wrist – elbow) and lower body (foot – ankle – knee).

Pushing / Moving

Students will learn how to effectively move an attackers whole body in single motions.  Students will have chances to practice controlling attackers via controlling the attacker's hips as well as via their head.

Martial Arts Concepts

The practical techniques of YOU Defense are learned through exercises, drills, and scenarios. The techniques are practiced directly with the instructor, individually, with partners, and in groups.  The technical curriculum is focused on teaching all things through a small set of core martial arts concepts, listed below:

Zanshin: Combative awareness
  1. A deep and total awareness of your surroundings.  
  2. Linking your mind to your body; training your mind to listen to your "gut feelings," and your body to act on them instantly
  3. Good zanshin will see you stopping attacks before they even have a chance to start!
Ma'ai: Combative Distance
  1. Total awareness of the space in-between you and an attacker, and of how close you need to be to an attacker to effectively launch a physical defense.
  2. Total awareness of the space in-between you and an attacker, and of how close an attacker would need to be to you to effectively attack you.
  3. With good Ma'ai, your body awareness is a powerful shield
Kamai: Combative readiness
  1. Learning to quickly and easily find your combative stance to defend yourself or launch attacks. 
  2. Creating stances and movements with immense power and structural stability, and using these to end attacks.
  3. With good Kamai, attacks are nullified before they even begin
Yamabiko: Call out attack and own your boundaries
  1. The courage to enter into an attack
  2. Allowing yourself to identify attack situations, and challenge them before they impact you. 
  3. Completely controlling an attacker in an attack situation by controlling how the attack occurs.
Takemusu: Infinite Techniques
  1. Learning to use your awareness, distance, stance, and boundaries to create any technique. 
  2. Learning to allow yourself to be powerful, to move without searching for a technique.
  3. Be the author of your story in every situation

Know Yourself

The Questions of You Defense

A central philosophy of You Defense is the simple truth of "I am not you." My situations and problems are not your situations and problems; therefore, my solutions cannot automatically be your solutions.

To truly teach self-defense courses, the students must be in charge of defining their needs and goals. If a class teaches physical "self-defense" without this awareness, the class is merely "body defense" (if you have the same body type as the instructor!) At best, such a class is effectively useless for preparing you to defend your safety in your situations.  At worse, it can be incredibly damaging to the core of who you are.

You Defense curriculum is customized by asking questions about you. The martial arts course content generated by these questions is taught collaboratively, and expanded to all areas of your life through group discussions and mock-situations.  Student feedback is obtained throughout the course, ensuring the course provides training appropriate for where you are.

Who are you? The Individual Self

You Defense challenges you to effectively wield the vast resources at your disposal in defense of who you are; your Individual-Self!  Truly asking yourself "who am I" can transform you, unlocking abilities of self-defense you never thought possible!  It allows you to fully become the creator and the director of your story, your narrative, and your fight!

Your Body

Your body is the first, and most obvious, barrier between what is considered "you" and what is considered "not you."  Attacks against the body are the most easily seen, and most easily countered. When connected to your body, your brain recognizes and responds to threats using the immense speed of procedural (muscle) memory. 

Your Brain

Your brain is the command center of your physical body.  Your brain is an amazing organ with immensely powerful survival abilities. We are not computers, though. Using knowledge of how our brain works to store, interpret, and recall information with memory and emotion based processing makes this course singularly effective.  Structuring training around the naturally effective ways our brain responds to attack situations fully empowers your individual-self in any situation

Your Mind

You mind is the final part of your individual-self, and is at the core of your identity, how you think, and how you act.  Allowing yourself the space to deliberately prepare and protect your mind for attack situations creates a resiliency and determination to support who you are.  Inviting the mind to be the foundation of your individual-self magnifies your ability to recognize and respond to any attack situations you encounter!

Where are you? The Community-Self.

All of us exist in communities of human relationships.  We are part of cultures and subcultures.  We have families and friends.  Our thoughts create actions, and our actions can create thoughts.  In short; we're complicated, and that's ok! You Defense challenges your perceptions of where you are attacked, and empowers your responses to the attack situations you identify. 


The attacks experienced by your individual self can be physical attacks from another person/individual-self.  The attacks can also be internal from the thoughts, opinions, and messages you hear within your mind.


The situational-self is your immediate physical surroundings.  The attacks (and defenses) can be the people around you, physical objects near you, the places in which you find yourself, or events that are occurring. 


The relational self refers to the rules you follow and the people with whom you have close relationships.  To defend your relational self requires strong individual-self knowledge and subtle situational self-awareness.


The social self is the image which we project to others.  It is our identity and behavior. The attacks and defenses here involve the scripts we all are given when behaving in public and private.  


The cultural self is the million-dollar question.  It's the realization that high heels were originally men's wear, and that the (un)attractiveness of a women's armpit hair was arbitrarily created by an advertising campaign. In short, it is the arbitrary set of rules that apply to our lives for no reason other than the random situations into which we are born!

What do you want?

A central philosophy of You Defense is the simple truth of "I am not you."  This means that my situations are not your situations. Because my situations are uniquely mine, the solutions I create and attempt are exclusively mine.  If a class only teaches "my (the curriculum's) answers" to "my (the curriculum's) problems" that class has serious problems.  At best, such a class is effectively useless for preparing you to defend your safety in your situations.  At worse, it can be incredibly damaging to the core of who you are.

The customization of You Defense curriculum takes place before the course in order to customize its technical content. Initial surveys can anonymously gauge student needs and general expectations. During the course, instructors use group discussion as well as student access to feedback forms to ensure the course provides resources appropriate for where the students are.  After the course, students are encouraged to remain part of the YOU Defense community. By sharing our experiences, challenges, and triumphs we can build a dynamic and vibrant community of safety!

What do you need?

The last question listed is the first to be considered in course creation.  You Defense self-defense courses are focused on providing you the tools and support you need to effectively defend who you are. Providing accurate knowledge of how you may be threatened is a vital part of this focus.

Qualitative information - subjective experiences unique to you - are vital to connect the defense of your individual-self to the defense of your situational-self. Your input is vital in creating a vibrant course curriculum that meets your needs.  You are the only expert in your experience, after all.

Quantitative information - objective facts - are also critical in building an appropriate curriculum.  The goal of these elements is to focus your attention on self-defense thoughts and concerns that you might not be aware of.  You Defense self-defense courses are founded in facts to best prepare your individual-self to challenge attack situations. If the quantitative reality changes, so will the course focus!    

Know Your Enemy

Violence as Process
"Violence, as a process, is perpetuated from generation to generation of oppressors, who become its heirs and are shaped by it.”

- Paulo Freire


One evening, my amazing and wonderful spouse and I were discussing our days.  At the time of this story she was employed by a major academic/medical institution located in Baltimore, Maryland whose name rhymes with... um.... "banana-kins" She mentioned that a doctor had reported being mugged while walking to work. I quickly interjected - as I am wont to do - to inquire about the doctor's safety.  She's fine, she assured me while returning to her narrative about the doctor being "held-up" by a smaller, non-"white," middle-aged male wielding a flathead screwdriver.  

I tilted my head a bit while furrowing my brow while my spouse continued her story to tell me the resolution of the doctor calmly surrendering her wallet and safely continuing on to work. I drew in a small breathe to add my commentary, but before I could utter a single word, my spouse's interjection hit me like a thunderclap. "Yes dear, ... but a smaller, non-white, middle-aged man would never mug you - during the day no less - with a flathead screwdriver. It would never happen. Never! You're a white, tall, large, imposing, hetero, cisgender male."  I realized that teaching others how I would or could respond to something is completely useless without appreciating that my situations will never be their situations!

If I only teach students how I would defend myself, the process of violence will not be interrupted.

Violence as Culture
“Conditioned by the position of oppressing others, any situation other than their former seems to them like oppression."  

― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed


A martial arts colleague shared a great experience with me, assuring me I was on the right path with the focus of You Defense.  He recounted participating in a women's self-defense seminar.  The instructors placed great emphasis (em-PHA-sis) on being "careful" with techniques and the danger or lethality of the techniques being taught.  It was stressed how dangerous and vicious the course "content" was, and that great care was needed when acting in self-defense.  The instructors all met for dinner afterwards, and my colleague joined them. They all drove to dinner together, and that's when my colleague noticed that none of the self-defense instructors were wearing seatbelts! That's when he realized the entire course was more about the instructor's egos and need for external self-esteem validation.  The course wasn't about personal safety - the instructors didn't even wear seatbelts! The entire thing was about making the instructors feel "safe" and "strong" by reinforcing how "dangerous" the content of their "techniques" was. 

If  self-defense education does not take the time to listen to students first, we will never create curriculum to actually meet student needs or to make the students feel safe.  We will not succeed in slowing the cultural transmission of violence from one generation to the next.

Violence as Education
“No oppressive order could permit the oppressed to being to question: Why?”

- Paulo Freire


During my graduate studies, I was fortunate to be introduced to the writings of Paulo Freire.  A Brazilian educator, his deep writings on pedagogy (education/educational process) astounded me! I read - and re-read - his small book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed.   The key element I took from this work was a realization of the formative nature of education.  In teaching others, there is a simple yet incredibly powerful question to ask; "Am I teaching you to be me, or helping you to be you?"

I am a white male who happens to be hetero and cisgender. I'm physically fit, tall, relatively large, and somewhat imposing.  What I can do, what I look like, and what other people see is my situation or my reality. My problems, fears, and issues exist within my situation or my reality.  The "solutions" in this case are martial arts.  Not only am I highly trained in administering and receiving physical violence, I'm a member of the current cultural power-majority.  In "self-defense" curriculum, I am part of what Freire would label the "oppressor class." To truly create self-defense, I need to be aware that I am not YOU, and allow you the chance to create YOUR curriculum. The good news is YOU have the power to end cycles of violence!

I'm honored to walk with you, to be your guide, and to fight by your side!

Know Your Situation

We're Safer then Before

In general, we are safer than ever!  Almost all measures for crime show significant decreases, and there's been a consistent reduction in measures for over a decade. In general, data indicate our communities are experiencing a time of increasing communication capacity and safety.

Looking specifically at rape and sexual assault crimes, these are also showing a decrease of 63% over the last decade or so. Our individual bodies seem to be safer than they have been in the past.  With ongoing awareness, intervention, and prevention campaigns against sexual assault, hopefully this number will continue to decrease!

Persistence of Sexual Violence

When comparing trends, a disturbing pattern seems to exist.  While there are drastic rates of decline in many areas of reported crime, the rate of decrease in sexual violence is relatively flat when compared to other forms of violence.  Our communities are getting safer, but there seems to be a visible lack of progress concerning rape and other forms of sexual violence.  The lack of progress concerning reducing occurrences of rape likely has cultural roots in how we entertain, educate, and encourage each other.  Addressing the cultural elements entrenching rape must be a priority for everyone empowered to create and change culture.

Our physical property and our bodies -- our physical "selves" -- are safer than ever, but there is a sense that this safety is not complete.  We can see trends and numbers showing our increasingly safe spaces, yet there seems to be a pervasive threat to who we are.

  • As of 1998, an estimated 17.7 million American women had been victims of attempted or completed rape
  • As of 1998, 2.78 million men in the U.S. had been victims of attempted or completed rape
  • Ages 12-34 are the highest risk years for rape and sexual assault
  • 1 in 6 women experience, or are targeted, by sexual violence
  • By age 18, 1 in 4 girls will be sexually assaulted
  • As many as one-third of all high school and college-age young people experience violence in an intimate or dating relationship.
  • Physical abuse is as common among high school and college-age couples as married couples.
  • Every 98 seconds in America, an American is sexually assaulted. 
  • From 2009-2013, Child Protective Services agencies substantiated, or found strong evidence to indicate that, 63,000 children a year were victims of sexual abuse
  • On average, there are 321,500 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States.

The frequency at which sexual assault and sexual violence occurs is blood chilling, and speaks to a broader issue than just "occurrence of a crime."

Impact of Sexual Violence

There is a noticeable difference when you compare sexual violence to other violent crimes; the rates of decline don't seem to match.  To attribute causality to this would take a much more robust study, but there are some things that are noticeable concerning sexual violence. The Center for Disease Control defines sexual violence as  a sexual act committed against someone without that person’s freely given consent. The CDC then provides specific examples or interpretations of this definition that do not need to be repeated here.  The core element of this violence is the unilateral and total imposition of control over another human.

Through committing sexual violence, a perpetrator maliciously controls their victim's behavior, movements, expressions, and experience of the moment. The perpetrator violently rewrites another person's narrative, forcing them to play a subservient role and follow a spiteful and harmful script over which they have no ownership. There are many reasons perpetrators may choose to violate others, all of which I am unable to understand.  Research clarifies that regardless of personal motivation, sexual violence revolves around control:

  • Sexual assault is motivated by hostility, power and control. Sexual assaults are not motivated by reproductive/sexual desire for intercourse
  • Sexual offenders are “ordinary”  individuals who sexually assault victims to assert power and control over them and inflict violence, humiliation and degradation - the goal is to exert control over another.
  • Many victims love their partners despite the abuse, blame themselves, or feel as if they have no support system or resources outside of the relationship and so they feel as if they can’t leave - they are trapped by the controlling, abusive "other."

As a society, we all pay for sexual violence through lost relationship potential. The abused are likely to face many obstacles to fully engaging in social, economic, and cultural participation required for human societies to thrive. Sexual violence threatens to transform our social, economic, and cultural landscape into that of isolated individuals. Victims of this abuse are more likely than non-victims to experience the following mental health challenges:

Drug Abuse Legacy
  • People who have been sexually assaulted are more likely to use drugs than the general public, about 4 times more likely to develop symptoms of drug abuse
  • 6 times more likely to use cocaine
  • 10 times more likely to use other major drugs
Mental Health Impact
  • About 4 times more likely to experience PTSD as adults
  • About 3 times more likely to experience a major depressive episode as adults
  • 94% of women who are raped experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms during the two weeks following the rape
  • 30% of women report PTSD symptoms 9 months after the rape
  • 33% of women who are raped contemplate suicide
  • 13% of women who are raped attempt suicide
Daily-Life Battles
  • Approximately 70% of rape or sexual assault victims experience moderate to severe distress, a larger percentage than for any other violent crime
  • 38% of victims of sexual violence experience work or school problems, which can include significant problems with a boss, coworker, or peer
  • 37% experience family/friend problems, including getting into arguments more frequently than before, not feeling able to trust their family/friends, or not feeling as close to them as before the crime
  • 84% of survivors who were victimized by an intimate partner experience professional or emotional issues, including moderate to severe distress, or increased problems at work or school
  • 79% of survivors who were victimized by a family member, close friend or acquaintance experience professional or emotional issues, including moderate to severe distress, or increased problems at work or school
  • 67% of survivors who were victimized by a stranger experience professional or emotional issues, including moderate to severe distress, or increased problems at work or school

It is in everyone's best interest to address the issue of sexual violence & control-as-crime; but what, exactly, is it, who does it affect, and how can we work to make things better?

Targets of Sexual Violence

Women are targeted and impacted by the highest amount of sexual violence in our society - and throughout the world. While the facts and figures can speak to the scale of the issues, the pain caused by sexual violence is not measurable through numbers.

  1. Nine (9) of 10 people experiencing sexual violence will be women and girls.
  2. 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed, 2.8% attempted)
    As of 1998, an estimated 17.7 million American women had been victims of attempted or completed rape
  3. 82% of all juvenile victims are female. 90% of adult rape victims are female,
  4. Females ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.
  5. Women ages 18-24 who are college students are 3 times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence.
  6. Women ages 18-24 who are NOT enrolled in college are 4 times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence.
  7. One (1) in 9 girls under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult.
  8. 1 in 7 women are stalked by an intimate partner
  9. 1 in 6 college women have been sexually abused in a dating relationship
  10. 1 in 5 Women are raped – 47% of those by a known person, friend, or intimate partner
  11. 1 in 4 dating teens is abused or harassed online or through texts by their partners
  12. 1 in 3 college women experience an abusive dating relationship

Information gathered from RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and Safe Horizons.

Children and Teens

Most people who find themselves facing a rape or sexual assault attack situation are below the age of 30.  Many of these ages fall in the years in which we form our identities and seek relationships.  These attacks not only threaten our bodies and minds in the moment; they threaten the future of who we will be!

When looking at children - individuals not yet 18 years of age - who face these attack situations, the large majority are age 12 to 17.  At least 2 of 3 children who experience a rape or sexual assault attack situation are in this age range.


Men certainly are also at risk of rape and sexual violence as well, though the rate of attack is significantly lower. Of males attacked, a specifically noted at-risk group are college aged males.

  1. One (1) out of every 10 rape victims are male
  2. As of 1998, 2.78 million men in the U.S. had been victims of attempted or completed rape
  3. About 3% of American men—or 1 in 33—have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime
  4. 1 in 53 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult.
  5. Male students ages 18-24 are five times more likely than non-students of the same age to experience sexual violence

LGBTQ Community Members

The LGBTQ population is at high risk for sexual violence -  And that's NOT okay!

  1. Between 20 and 35 percent of LGBTQ couples experience domestic violence.
  2. LGBTQ youth report a 30 percent incidence of dating violence, compared to 9 percent for heterosexual students
  3. 44 percent of lesbians and 61 percent of bisexual women experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner
  4. 26 percent of gay men and 37 percent of bisexual men experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner
  5. Nearly half (48 percent) of bisexual women who are rape survivors experienced their first rape between ages 11 and 17

In addition to often being denied the right to simply exist in public spaces, transgender students are at higher risk for sexual violence

  1. One (1) in 2 transgender individuals are sexually abused or assaulted at some point in their lives
  2. 12 percent of all transgender youth report being sexually assaulted in K–12 settings by peers or educational staff
  3. In a 2009 NCAVP report by 50 percent of people who died in violent hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people were transgender women
  4. 21% of TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming) college students have been sexually assaulted compared to 18% of non-TGQN females, and 4% of non-TGQN males,
Perpetrator of Sexual Violence (Stranger Danger?)

With younger individuals, teaching stranger-danger based self-defense curriculum to protect against sexual violence is an even more misguided approach. When looking at sexual violence committed against minors:

  1. 93% of victims knew the people who raped them.
  2. 59%  of the abusers were known acquaintances
  3. 34% were family members
  4. 7%  were strangers to the victim

Out of the yearly 63,000 sexual abuse cases substantiated/found strong evidence by Child Protective Services (CPS), the perpetrator was most often the parent:

  1. 80% of perpetrators were a parent
  2. 6% were other relatives
  3. 5% were "other" (from siblings to strangers)
  4. 4% were unmarried partners of a parent

Perpetrator Relationship

Focusing on a self-defense strategy to protect against strangers leaves a large gap in defensive awareness and abilities when it comes to sexual violence and rape culture.

  1. A devastating total of 3 out of 4 rapes are committed by an individual known to the victim.
  2. Only 4% of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone deemed to be a "stranger."
  3. In all, 79% of rapes committed involve a perpetrator or perpetrators who are known to the victim.
  4. Studies show that approximately 80%-90% of women reporting sexual assaults knew their assailant.

Perpetrator Race

When working towards the resolution of an issue or problem, the facts need to be correct. If the information or beliefs about the problem are wrong, then the solution will be wrong.  In the case of protecting from sexual violence, there's no margin of error for "wrong."

  1. Almost all sexual assaults occur between members of the same race.
  2. In the USA, 57% of assaults are committed by individuals labeled as "white." 

Locations of Sexual Assaults

Similar to the distraction of stranger-danger, the threats we face often find us closest to where we assume they will not take place.

  • The majority of assaults occur in places ordinarily thought to be safe, such as homes, cars and offices
  • Roughly 67% of rape and sexual assault cases occur in a home or family environment; the defender's home or that of a relative.
  • 48% of individuals attacked were sleeping, or performing another activity at home
  • 29% were traveling to and from work or school, or traveling to shop or run errands
  • 12% were working
  • 7% were attending school

Weapons Used in Sexual Assaults

A central element of You Defense is allowing the defender (you) to determine the level of threat posed by any attacker or any item wielded by that attacker.  Information on weapons used in assault is meant to inform and prepare participants, not dictate their responses or judge threats for them!

  • Roughly 11% of rape and sexual assault cases involve the use of a weapon.
  • Of those involving weapons, 6% involved guns, 4% involved knives, and 1% involved weapons categorized as "other."
  • In a large majority of cases -- 2 out of 3 -- the attackers use what is referred to as "personal weapons," such as hands, feet, teeth, etc.  
  • Most situations will involve a single attacker; 90% of rapes and sexual assaults are committed by a single perpetrator.